First you have to learn what fresh truffles taste like.
In the slide show, fresh truffle shaved on pizza, in risotto, in chocolate (true truffles), in creme brulee, infused in ale, with gnochi and burnt sage butter and hazelnuts, roast chicken with peregordine sauce, truffle salt, open style lasagna with pumpkin and pine nuts, in a mushroom risotto topped lamb cutlet, scallops with roasted celeriac and chestnuts.
Forget truffle oil, it’s way to much like an industrial chemical. (In fact it is just that, Bis-(Methylthio)methane) added to an oil like grapeseed or a mild olive oil.
Finding places to taste fresh truffles is the hard bit unless you’re making a visit to a truffle growing region where the local chefs are offering a variety of dishes. If you can’t make it to France or Italy, try closer to home in the Capital Country Region around Canberra, and (more widely next year) in Orange and in Daylesford and Trentham in Victoria .
Then there’s Truffle Festivals, like Canberra again, and Mundaring in WA (which isn’t in a growing region but they celebrate the truffles from Manjimup further South). In 2011 watch for Trentham and Manjimup’s own event.
Trying one restaurant is good, but more than one and you start to get a comparitive flavour reference. Truffle degustations can be overwhelming but small tastes of different truffle dishes allows you to zero in on the flavour. (That’s if the chefs know what they’re doing which is not always the case, many of our local chefs are still learning about how to use it and how much to use. Each year the options for you to taste truffles are growing.
You can expect your best big city restaurants to have a dish in season. In a Good Living article Chui Lee Luk, chef and owner of Claude’s restaurant in Sydney (who served the first Tasmanian truffle in 2000) says “People get nervous about truffles. But you have to let go a bit. Truffles are an indulgence but it’s worth it”. She uses truffle in a traditional pèrigueux sauce and serves a champagne and truffle ice-cream, using between 200g to 1kg of truffles a week. There was an embarassing time when Tony Bilson bragged about being the is the first Australian chef as saying he buys his truffles from Tibet “for a fraction of the Australian price”. (Tibetan obviously sounds better than Chinese truffles on a menu. The varieties are Tuber Sinensis or Himalayensis). People quickly realised that while they looked like black Perigord truffle -they tasted of, well let’s say not a lot unless there was truffle oil in the box somewhere. Because the Chinese truffles are a threat to locally grown Perigord ones if the spores were introduced to our truffieres as they are much more dominant, we’ve seen the importation of banned. In France it’s still an issue, where they get added to a basket of genuine local ones, and passed off as black Perigord truffles.